Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: New challenges for lockdown meal delivery group

Getting ready to deliver meals
Image caption The work of community groups has helped the elderly and vulnerable get a hot meal during lockdown

Community groups have played a vital role in recent weeks, delivering food and medicines, and checking up on elderly and vulnerable people.

Now that lockdown restrictions are being relaxed, some of that work is coming to an end.

Volunteers in Fivemiletown in County Tyrone have delivered more than 3,000 meals since the crisis began.

Their work has supported those in need and provided a vital link to people in isolation.

Iain Lendrum said he started the group after he explained to his parents they would need to self-isolate and they asked who was going to look after their friends.

"That's where I thought: 'Who's going to help these people who've got no family around them?'"

Image caption Iain Lendrum started the group when he realised elderly people might not have anyone to look after them during the lockdown

About 20 people went to a meeting held just before the lockdown in March, and the Fivemiletown Coronavirus Support Group was formed.

It started out by delivering groceries and medicines, as well as shielding packs from Mid-Ulster District Council.

It set up a food bank to help people who were furloughed or who had lost their jobs.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) was sourced and distributed to local healthcare workers and GP surgeries.

"A number of elderly people did raise the issue that the local cafés were closed and they felt they couldn't get meals," Mr Lendrum explained.

"While initially we didn't want to get involved in delivering meals, we felt the need was there from the community."

With the support of a local butcher, the group started out with 180 meals for the elderly and vulnerable members of the community.

That soon grew to more than 300 meals which a team of volunteers would collect and deliver every Saturday.

Mr Lendrum said it had helped "the mental well-being and the morale of the local community".

Image caption Gearing up: The group has delivered thousands of meals during the lockdown

"The elderly people are sitting waiting on you coming on a Saturday," he said.

"They might be the only person they've seen all week.

"They love getting the meals but also we deliver letters from the local schoolchildren and we have a magazine we've done as well."

The Lockdown Lowdown provides information and photographs of what is happening in the local area.

Image caption 92-year-old Gertie Primrose receiving her weekly meal delivery

"The elderly people love getting those letters and they reply to the schoolchildren, which has been fantastic as well," Iain added.

One of those who looks forward to her weekly visit is 92-year-old Gertie Primrose, who has been isolating in her remote bungalow in Cooneen.

She said the roast dinner is "very nice and very appreciated".

"When you're on your own you might make your dinner or you might not, that's just the way it often happens," she said.

"This last while there wasn't too many to talk to.

"You couldn't go out, you couldn't get anyone in."

Mr Lendrum said the group had given people a sense of purpose and helped the volunteers, themselves, to cope throughout the lockdown.

"They felt that this has focused their minds and enabled them to get through it."

Image copyright Iain Lendrum
Image caption More more than 300 summer activity packs for children have been distributed

The group has received support from Mid Ulster District Council as well as sponsorship from local businesses.

Sixth form pupils at Fivemiletown College donated £500 left over after their school formal.

Deputy head boy Tommy Coulter said it was important to put the money back into the community.

"You can see week after week how much it's been doing to help people," he said.

"When you've got so much time off school, it gives you a lot of time to reflect on how much of a difficult time it is for people."

Deputy head girl Victoria Johnston added that with school being closed, "we're obviously all sitting about at home doing nothing".

"It just means we can still be doing something in the community, we can still be helping the people that need it."

As the restrictions are lifted the group is ending its weekly meal delivery.

'Immensely proud'

It is now responding to new challenges.

More than 300 summer activity packs for children have been distributed.

Small financial grants have also been provided to help local sports clubs buy the equipment they need to reopen and to encourage children to get back out and involved in sport.

For example, they have sponsored water bottles for every child at the local football club.

Mr Lendrum said local schools will also receive PPE so that it does not have to come out of the school budget.

Reflecting on everything that has been done, he feels "immensely proud" of what the local community has achieved.

"They have worked so hard and it's brought the community together."